Here’s a remarkable short film of the great gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, violinist Stéphane Grappelli and their band the Quintette du Hot Club de France performing on a movie set in 1938. The film was hastily organized by the band’s British agent Lew Grade as a way to introduce the band’s unique style of guitar- and violin-based jazz to the British public before their first UK tour. As Michael Dregni writes in Gypsy Jazz: In Search of Django Reinhardt and the Soul of Gypsy Swing:
The Quintette was unknown to the British public, and there was no telling how their new music would resonate. So, Grade sought to educate his audience. He hired a movie crew to film a six-minute-plus promotional short entitled Jazz “Hot” to be shown in British theaters providing a lesson in jazz appreciation to warm up the crowds.
That would explain the didactic tone of the first two and a half minutes of the film, which plods along as a remedial lesson on the nature of jazz. It opens with an orchestra giving a note-for-note performance of Handel’s “Largo,” from the opera Xerxes, which the narrator then contrasts to the freedom of jazz improvisation.
But the film really comes alive when Django arrives on the screen and launches into a jazz arrangement of the popular French song “J’attendrai.” (The name means “I will wait,” and it’s a reworking of a 1933 Italian song, “Tornerai” or “You Will Return,” by Dino Olivieri and Nino Rastelli.) Although the sequences of Reinhardt and the band playing were obviously synchronized to a previously recorded track, Jazz “Hot” is the best surviving visual document of the legendary guitarist’s two-fingered fretting technique, which he developed after losing the use of most of his left hand in a fire. To learn more about Reinhardt and to watch a full-length documentary on his life, see our August 2012 post, “Django Reinhardt and the Inspiring Story Behind His Guitar Technique.”